MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

August 17, 2013

City near to wrapping up labor contracts

It will be earliest contracts finished in years if firefighters ratify agreement

Muskogee firefighters are voting on the ratification of a labor contract for the fiscal year that began July 1.

If they ratify the agreement, it will be the first time in several years that contracts with all three employee unions have been struck this early in the fiscal year. Contract negotiations in the past have dragged on for months — sometimes a year or more.

City councilors approved on Monday three collective bargaining agreements. Members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 95 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2465 ratified their respective contracts before city councilors signed off on the agreements.

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 57 members delayed ratification until after city councilors gave the agreements a thumbs up. IAFF Local 57 President Bryan Fuller said the outcome of this week’s vote should be known by the first part of this week.

Interim City Manager Roy Tucker said pay raises for employees are included in all three collective bargaining agreements. Employees represented by the three labor unions will receive a 2 percent wage increase from the general fund and a bump from the sales tax revenue dedicated to wages and equipment.

“It keeps the employees happy and shows the work they are doing is appreciated,” Tucker said about the pay raises. “It also shows we are budgeting in a fiscally responsible way that allows us to give these raises.”

Tucker said the FOP contract includes a provision that allows for the off-duty use of police cars. Tucker said that provision was dropped from the contract a few years ago but renegotiated this year.

Fuller, along with AFSCME Local 2465 President Dustin Williams, said negotiations seemed to go more smoothly this year than in the past. Fuller declined to discuss why he thinks that might be, but Williams had no reservations about sharing his thoughts about the process.

Williams said reaching an agreement early this year could be because of all the work that went into negotiating the fiscal year 2013 contract. That agreement was the first to be hammered out after city councilors voted in June 2011 to let the labor contract with the employee group expire.

The provocative decision was made in response to the repeal of a state law that required municipalities of certain sizes to bargain collectively with non-uniform employees. The move unleashed a backlash among employees and residents alike, leading to the largest turnover of the City Council in more than 20 years and the eventual reinstatement of the non-uniform employee union the following year.

A second reason Williams gave for a smoother negotiation process this year was the departure of former City Manager Greg Buckley. Williams said employees are holding out hope Buckley’s successor will be more labor friendly.

“We want to be partners with the city, and with Greg that just wasn’t possible,” Williams said about the tension between labor and the city’s top administrator. “We are curious about next year and how things are going to go — we are hoping the new city manager will be easier to work with.”

Michael Bates, the city’s labor relations manager and lead contract negotiator, said past labor negotiations may have proved contentious at times. But he said that seems to have improved during the past five years.

“They used to have problems years ago, but that has been getting better,” said Bates, who has been part of the administration’s negotiating team for about five years. “You’ve got a good group of employees on those negotiating teams.”

A review of City Council agendas posted online since October 2009 revealed collective bargaining negotiations since that time resulted with memorandums of understanding that extended the terms of previous contracts. The few contracts that were negotiated during that period were approved several months into the fiscal year.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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